State Supreme Court decisions favor public health and clean water

Jul 9, 2021 | Agriculture, DNR, Drinking Water, Groundwater, Water Policy

On Thursday, July 8, the Wisconsin Supreme Court handed down two decisions that are a victory for human health and the environment, but also a bit of a cautionary tale.

These cases, litigated by our friends at Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates, affirm the authority of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to act, as they always have, based on the broad authority they have been given by the legislature to protect our health and waters. The Pleasant Lake case also reaffirms the ability of the DNR to review high-capacity wells and in doing so also affirms the scope of the Public Trust Doctrine.

Both of these are very good things. But the fact that allowing the DNR to use science to determine the health and environmental impacts of water pumping or pollution permits was ever in doubt – as well as the time it took environmental groups and the citizens they represent to clarify – is the cautionary tale. It took almost a decade to get to this point.

For Wisconsin to truly protect our water, we need a water management system that is proactive, and can act fast enough to prevent harm to public health or the environment from all the activities that could damage our water resources, including the impacts of high-capacity water wells and the pollution associated with manure waste from industrial animal agriculture. 

A forward-thinking water management system is possible. To avoid yearslong litigation to defend our water, the twelve elements of the Wisconsin Water Agenda outline the characteristics of such a system.

Read more about these court cases in the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.